I had a thought over on RPG.net today on sub-pyramids of skills, so I figured I'd expand on it here.
Then I had further thought on the same thing, and suddenly it was skill pyramids all the way down. But we'll get to that soon enough.
First, let's say you have a skill that's important enough to your game that you really want to drill down into what it can do. Piloting, fencing, and magic are the first things that spring to mind for me. I'll go with magic, because the first two will entail a lot more thought and crunchiness. So we have a skill called Magic. It's about magic stuff.
Come up with a number of distinct things -- around 10 -- that the skill can do. "Distinct things" will vary depending on personal preference, game world, and campaign. For magic, I'd go with schools, and for the sake of convenience and my familiarity with the subject, let's say they're the nine schools of 2nd edition AD&D: Abjuration, Conjuration, Divination, Evocation, etc. (They used these in 3.X too, right? Anyway. That's neither here nor there.) I'm calling these specialties for now.
You also have these specialties in a pyramid, with an apex equal to your Magic skill. So if you have Fair (+2) Magic, your Magic pyramid might look like this:
Fair (+2): Evocation
Average (+1): Invocation, TransmutationThree slots in your pyramid, three schools of magic.
If you have Great (+4) Magic, you have skill in all schools of magic -- a wizard's wizard, who puts the study of the magical arts above all else. That might look like this:
Great (+4): Evocation
Good (+3): Invocation, Transmutation
Fair (+2): Enchantment, Divination, Abjuration
Average (+1): Conjuration, Necromancy, IllusionWhen you cast a spell, you don't roll your Magic skill -- you roll your specialty skill. So if you're casting a fireball, you'd roll your Great (+4) Evocation. If you're casting phantasmal killer, you'd roll your Average (+1) Illusion. Etc. Probably the only time you'd roll Magic is to know stuff in general about magic.
What do these specialties do? Give 'em some Fate Core actions, as appropriate. No need to define them more than that. Evocation overcomes by blowing stuff up, creates advantages by blowing stuff up, and attacks by blowing stuff up.
This is the part that goes rather completely crazy, in my opinion. Once you have this secondary pyramid, you make a tertiary pyramid for each of these schools of magic. What's in these skill pyramids? Not skills -- spells. Since this is already so AD&D-heavy anyway, open up your PHB and take your spells right from there.
So for Evocation, this wizard's wizard above would have 10 Evocation spells, rated from +1 to +4. For Divination, they'd have three spells. And so on.
Yeah! You're right! That is a lot of spells to keep track of. An ungainly number. It's ridiculous! See, I told you it was crazy. It's more a thought exercise than anything else.
There are a couple more reasonable approaches to this. One is to make the schools individual skills (instead of specialties), and then make spells the specialties. E.g., you have Good (+3) Evocation, which means you can have a Good (+3) Fireball, Fair (+2) Burning Hands and Melf's Acid Arrow, etc.
Another way is to ditch the whole "school" thing and instead go with types of magic, like Fire, Water, Air, Earth, and Death or something. Each of those is a skill, and spells are specialties -- but probably not cribbed from AD&D. I'd make them player-defined, then build the spells as custom skills in the style of Atomic Robo. Maybe you have n points to spend on making those spells, where n is determined by your skill rating.
(BTW, if you're an ARRPG playtester and any of the above reminds you of modes, it's sheer coincidence.)
This has nothing to do with skill sub-pyramids, but: Another way to go would be to have spells as stunts, possibly as stunts you could swap out via some sort of spellbook mechanism. So whether have you have schools of magic as skills or specialties, you can roll Evocation, Abjuration, and Divination all day long to do whatever it is you do with those schools (according to their actions), but then you might also have stunts that stretch those boundaries a bit. For example:
Fireball: When attacking with Evocation, spend a fate point to affect everyone in the targeted zone.
Shield: +2 to Abjuration when defending against physical attacks.
Discern Location: Spend a fate point and specify one creature you've seen or object you've touched. You know the location of that creature or object unerringly and in exacting detail, even if it's on another continent, planet, or plane of existence.Anyway. Back to Robo.